Four Easy Ways to Aid Native Bees

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The most successful vegetable gardeners I know are the ones who encourage beneficial insects like native bees. Native bees are fantastic pollinators, and better pollination in your garden means more food for you. Here are four ways to turn your vegetable garden into a native-bee habitat:

A bee visits lavender in bloom. Ornamental flowers can help draw attention to the smaller blossoms of vegetable plants sited nearby.

A bee visits lavender in bloom. Ornamental flowers can help draw attention to the smaller blossoms of vegetable plants sited nearby.

1. Go wild! Don't be afraid to leave a few natural areas in and around your garden. In her book Vegetables Love Flowers, Lisa Mason Ziegler notes that the "wild island" near her garden is a hot spot for birds and insects.

2. Think like a bee. I love to mulch around my vegetables with shredded leaves to keep the weeds down and the moisture in the soil, but I'm also careful to leave plenty of bare soil throughout the garden for ground-nesting native bees. I've also stopped tilling, in part because I switched to raised beds but also because I learned that tilling affects native bees. If you have to till, leave areas with undisturbed soil in and around your garden for ground-nesting bees.

3. Leave the trees. I have a few dead and dying trees around my vegetable garden that, thanks to advice from Ziegler, I've left in place. "Old dead wood is often full of leftover tunnels made by wood-boring beetle larvae," she says. "Wood-nesting bees will make good use of them." Just be sure the trees aren't a threat to any structures.

4. Feed the bees! A garden with plants that offer diverse flower shapes attracts the widest variety of native bees. It's also important to provide a selection of early-, mid- and late-flowering plants for a steady supply of nectar from early spring through late autumn.

Nova Scotia gardener Niki Jabbour writes the "Edibles Year-round" column for Horticulture magazine and she contributes to savvygardening.com. This post was excerpted from Horticulture's November/December 2019 issue. Her books include Niki Jabbour's Veggie Garden Remix and Groundbreaking Food Gardens, among others.